Gov.-elect Phil Murphy’s fourth cabinet nomination, that of former administrative law judge Tahesha Way to serve as secretary of state, continues to fulfill his pledge to bring diversity to state government.
If confirmed by the New Jersey Senate, Way would be the third woman and second black woman heading a state department. Murphy charged the Passaic County Democrat, who was reportedly on his short list for lieutenant governor, with protecting and broadening voting rights in the state. Among other duties, the secretary of state oversees elections.
“We will ask her to stand up for the rights of New Jersey voters against pressures from President Trump’s voter suppression panel and others who want to restrict access to the ballot box,” Murphy said on Monday in announcing his choice of Way. He further characterized as a “lunatic” Kris Kobach, the vice chair and driving force of the commission Trump appointed to investigate his contention — made without any proof — that millions of people cast illegal ballots in the 2016 election.
Way, 46, said she would “make democracy real for all residents of New Jersey through maintaining and strengthening voting rights and common ground efforts to modernize the voting process.”
Murphy said he supports expanding the rights of voters, embracing many of the ideas New Jersey Democrats and progressive organizations have been pushing. These include allowing early in-person voting, automatic voter registration and letting ex-offenders vote.
The secretary of state, one of only two offices required by the state Constitution, handles more than just election issues. Tourism and historic and cultural commissions are also responsibilities of the secretary of state. A former Passaic County freeholder, Way said she would work to support all the missions of her office. Murphy said she is the best person for the job, describing her as “a leader who understands both business and law, who respects the vast cultures which make our state a melting pot, and who has the tested leadership skills necessary for guiding a department with such broad and varied mandates.”
John Currie, the chairman of the New Jersey Democratic State Committee and longtime party chair in Passaic County, praised Murphy’s choice.
“I know Tahesha Way well from her extensive work in Passaic County,” Currie said. “She is a dynamic and inspiring leader who adds additional competence and diversity to the Governor-elect’s cabinet. At a time when Republicans like President Donald Trump are manufacturing fear and electoral apathy, while enabling bigotry, it is important to have a capable administrator of our state's elections — someone who will focus on encouraging, not discouraging, participation and protecting the rights of all eligible voters.”
Described by some Democrats as one of the party’s rising stars, Way is currently special counsel to the Passaic County Board of Social Services. She earned an undergraduate degree in English and American Literature from Brown University. She got her law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law. She worked as a private practice lawyer in Totowa and has taught English and administrative law and practice at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
Appointed to a seat on the Passaic County Board of Chosen Freeholders in July 2006, Way later was elected to a full term and served as the board’s director in 2009. She also served as a member of the Highlands Water Protection and Planning Council during the period in which it adopted its controversial regional master plan. She went on to serve as a state administrative law judge for about five years.
Born in the Bronx, NY, Way now lives in Wayne with her husband Charles, a former New York Giants football player, and their four daughters. Both Tahesha and Charles Way have been working with Susan G. Komen North Jersey to raise funds and support breast cancer survivorship programs in North Jersey.